Our theme for the magazine here at EducationCloset this month is special populations. That can range from English Language Learners to students with special needs. While brainstorming for this article, I searched through the 5 year’s worth of articles I have previously written for EducationCloset. I found some articles I had not even remembered writing until I started to read them.
From my quick perusal, I found four articles that deal with the idea of special populations and the arts. The gist of them are that teaching with an arts integrated approach is just best practice. That all populations benefit, but the ones who seem to reap the most benefit are those who have trouble learning in traditional ways.
Arts Integration with English Learners
This article – Arts Integration with English Learners – was a reflection on my studying for the CTEL in California and reading about teaching strategies suggested for this population that frequently brought in the arts. In addition, I added the evidence mounting from the implementation of an AI approach to teaching science. The San Diego Unified School District developed this with the University of California, Irvine. Although all populations benefited from the approach it was ELLs that showed the most improvement. Dancing, chanting, acting and drawing the content helped the students have new ways to experience and understand the science content in a language foreign to them.
Arts Integration: A Way to Reach All Learners
Arts Integration: A Way to Reach All Learners was my experience using an AI approach with my students with special needs. This was when I began leveraging the arts to reach learners who had trouble finding access to content in their “mainstream” classes. Acting, movement, poetry writing and comic strip making with my students with special needs brought them joy. Joy in learning when school was historically frustrating, discouraging or even intimidating for them.
The Brilliance of Integration: Making Music for the Deaf
In this article, I talk about a hearing woman who had friends with hearing impairment. She learned to sign ASL to communicate with them. One day at a party, she started to interpret the music that was playing. She did this by signing the words. But she also added body movement and facial expression to capture the mood and essence of the music. That led to her starting a business of interpreters, expert in bringing music alive for those who cannot hear.
Music, Movies, Autism, the Brain and the Human Experience
But one subject that I found both inspiring and sobering was using the arts with people with autism which I covered in an article called Music, Movies, Autism, the Brain and the Human Experience. After re-reading that article, I did some further research on the topic. I am not an expert by any means but from what I can conclude, we don’t know much about autism. We don’t know what causes it or how to help those afflicted. I found one perspective I came across particularly interesting. Some who think that those who try to make someone “less autistic” are making a mistake. That they should instead use what makes them unique to help connect with them. Some also caution that while the arts may be a way to foster better communication, there is no fail-safe way to “reach” someone with autism.
It is a mysterious condition but the arts certainly provide new opportunities for all of us to make connections when traditional face-to-face conversation is not an option. The Big Anxiety sponsored an event they called Neurodiverse-City where artists with autism showcased their art to help others understand the world as they do. As The Conversation.com knows, art allows us all another way to communicate and better understand one another.
While there is no one way to best educate everyone, the arts certainly do provide new and alternative ways to learn, to practice learning, to communicate and to express learning. As educators charged with teaching everyone, we need to use all available tools. Especially those tools which have proven to be most effective with populations who are most marginalized by traditional teaching methods. As I argued in one of my articles, Why Arts Integration? It’s Just Best Practice!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.